10 February 2009

because I need to think about good news

Like many other people, I was transfixed and fascinated by the story of US Airways Flight 1549 and pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. I relate to the whole incident on a very personal level, though -- and not just because of the dozens of times I've flown out of La Guardia airport. My step-father is an airline pilot. He reached the mandatory retirement age a few years ago, but for the last two decades of his career he flew for US Airways.

Because of my family connection, and a personal life-long fascination with airplanes, I wasn't surprised by the plane's ability to stay in the air after losing both of its engines, or its remaining intact during a water landing. I know more than the average person does about what planes can do, and how they work. What has consistently amazed me, though, and moved me to tears more than once, are the actions and the character of Capt. Sullenberger and his crew.

I know, thanks to my step-dad, what "type" pilots are when they're at the controls. To say that ice-water flows throught their veins sounds like a criticism of their humanity ... so instead I'll call it Very Cool Water. It must be the sheer number of hours in the sky that it takes to even become a commercial pilot, let alone be one for several decades -- these guys have seen a lot, and they are over-prepared for every eventuality. And that all makes sense to me in theory. But in reality?

What this man was able to do just floors me. Listen to his list of everything he had to do in order to pull off the landing: keep the wings exactly level, keep the nose slightly up, slow the plane down to just above minimum-possible airspeed, land near boat traffic for immediate rescue ... it just keeps going. All as he was also weighing a return to La Guardia, then trying for a smaller airport in NewJersey, not to mention manouvering between several bridges and ferry boats. All in an airliner with no working engines.

And this whole event -- the entire duration of Flight 1549 -- was barely 5 minutes. Only about 3 of those were after the bird strike.

But it just kept getting better. For several weeks after this happened, Capt. Sullenberger and the rest of the crew resisted the media circus. None of them seemed to think they'd done anything extra-ordinary, or more than "their jobs." Maybe it's because we (understandably) don't like to think about what flight crews are actually trained to do. Maybe it's that the commercial airline industry isn't really a magnet for people who seek the limelight. But even in the face of enormous public interest, no one ran out & hired a publicist to get them as much attention & free stuff as humanly possible. *(I'm talkin' to you, OctoMom.) Their heroism is multiplied by their humility.

I only got around to watching this online last night, because I was at work when it originally aired. But as soon as I did, I knew that I had to post it here. Partly because I do need some good news these days, dammit ... but mostly because we shouldn't forget what this pilot & his crew did just because the news cycle has moved on.

60 Minutes Interview: Part One

60 Minutes Interview: Part Two

60 Minutes Interview: Part Three:

I'm posting the third video because of how moving the "after" part is, but all three are so well worth watching. I dare you not to be moved during the 1st part, when this all-business "pilot's pilot" finally cracks a smile.


After I watched this, I decided to check in with how Nie's doing. And then I just completely lost it. Some days, people just amaze me.

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